Early childhood education today is like banquet tables full of offerings when it comes to the philosophies and practices which make up the practice. Preschool education, as we know it today, for the most originated in the ideas which sprung out of Europe during the early 19th century, especially those of humanism in Germany. Yet do not let this relatively recent development fool you. The educational values and practices come from ancient traditions from Greece and beyond.
Today the overriding value in all education is a humanistic approach which states it as “a system of thought that reflects concern for the values, potential, well-being, and interests of human beings.” This approach, which is completely accepted today, was once considered radical and unorthodox. For one thing, the way we think about children has been totally revolutionized. In a relatively short time children have gone from being thought of as “little adults” with childhood just a place to wait until adulthood. Only the children of the wealthy received formal educations, while the rest received physical punishments, repetitive, rote learning and harsh treatment.
Today this is not the case at all. Children are educated, and recognized as prime material for learning. Childhood is a crucial stage where much matters and deserves as much respect as all other stages of development throughout life. Childhood should not be rushed through, but should be nurtured to get the best results.
During the mid-1800s Friedrich Wilhelm Froebel created the first kindergarten program in Germany. Opened in 1837 this unique environment for children ages 4-6 focused on the crucial nature of play, games and toys for the development of children in the intellectual, spiritual and social spheres. This new methodology was inspired by Froebel’s study of Comenius. Just as folding tables are like a transition between permanent tables and portable, so to Froebel’s Kindergarten was meant to be a transition from home to school, infancy to childhood. Just like a garden is a place to nurture plants and flowers, so to this new ‘kindergarten’ literally “children’s garden” would be a place to nurture children.
In Froebel’s educational philosophy he recognizes three forms of learning:
1. Knowledge of forms of life: gardening, animal care, and domestic jobs.
2. Knowledge of forms of mathematics: geometric forms and their relationships.
3. Knowledge of forms of beauty: design, color, shape, harmonies and movement.
A kindergarten curriculum could consist of a variety of “occupations” such as molding, folding, beading, threading, and embroidery. In addition activities such as singing, games, plays, and stories were also used to encourage the learning process. Froebel insisted that learning begin with the concrete and move on to the more abstract. In his view perception came before abstract thinking skills.
Kindergartens have come under attack for being too rigid and structured than what is healthy for young children.
“Progressive educators expressed the concern that kindergarten practices were rigid and didn’t reflect their ideas about how children develop and learn. They challenged supporters of Froebel’s approach. By 1920, the progressive approach had achieved dominance. The reformed kindergarten curriculum reflected many of Froebel’s original ideas but added a new emphasis on free play, social interaction, art, music, nature study, and excursions. New unstructured materials, including large blocks and doll houses, encouraged children’s imaginative play. Books and songs reflected children’s interests, rather than conveying a religious message, and activities were inspired by events in the children’s daily lives.” (Feeny, Moravcik, Nolte, Christensen 2010)
Preschool education is important to Americans. So important, that in February of 2013, US President Barrack Obama said, “I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America… Let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.” This was written on an official government education site.
Even though resources may be limited – there may not even be enough toys – a preschool can actually successfully run with very little. It is not as if children require a whole lot of school chairs or computer desks, or other such furniture and equipment. As long as there is qualified staff and people dedicated to the cause, the kids will thrive in most preschool environments.
As it is today in America, the situation is that there are far too many children missing out on the preschool opportunity. According to this government site “doing better is more than just a moral and educational imperative, it’s smart government.” Thus all the monies spent on preschool – it has been calculated – “returns $7 through increased productivity and savings on public assistance and criminal justice.
The 2012 State Preschool Yearbook offers a real insight into what is currently going on in America’s preschools. It is filled with information on state-funded institutions for 2011-12 but also gives an overall review of the last ten years. One of the goals of this book is to form an understanding of the progress of early childhood education throughout the nation and improve educational opportunities for the country’s children.
In the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic year, twenty-eight percent of the country’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded preschool program. The enrollment figure has dropped by a staggering $500m across the country. It has never happened before to this extent. The results recorded in the Yearbook bring up concerns on the quality and accessibility of pre-K education for many of the country’s youngsters.
There are three main categories in the Yearbook. One is a summary of the information and description of national trends for preschool enrollment. One is a presentation of profiles of each state’s policies vis-à-vis preschool access, quality standards and resources for the academic year.
Overall, the Yearbook is a very useful tool for those involved in any part of developing preschool curricula or getting access to preschool for the nation’s children.
Preschoolers love to play pretend games. Anything with imagination is great. They do not require fancy toys or expensive games – just give them some space and they’ll find something fun to do. In fact, if there a bunch of stacking chairs in the classroom, move them to the side and open up the room for the little kids to explore their possibilities. It’s amazing what they can come with, even if there are very few toys around.
Indeed, sometimes, the less distractions, the better.
Besides which, children are naturally creative and imaginative. Even if they find an old toothbrush they can use that for play. They are very good at substituting what they have for something that they want. Just let them tap into their imaginations and wait for the magic to happen. It is amazing what they can come up with.
Indeed, as one drama teacher, Karey James noted on an education website “Creative play is the key to all learning, I find. If you allow a child to be creative and express themselves, you are spurring a deep-rooted curiosity in the world and a desire to learn all there is to learn!”